At Libby High School, students are being prepared for careers in a variety of trades, including welding.
On Friday, Libby High School welding instructor John Love, along with Certified Welding Inspectors Brian Schmaing and Blake Thompson from Flathead Valley Community College, supervised Love’s students as they took their welding tests.
“We are here to qualify the students for American Welding Society certification,” said Schmaing. “In order for that to happen, they have to have a CWI conduct the tests.”
The small fabrication shop was filled with students in blue and gold welding vests grinding their welds to the width required by the AWS. Periodically, students would bring the strips of flat iron they had been welding together to Schmaing in order for him to take a measurement, only to send them on their way again.
While there were no girls in Love’s class, he said he has had girls in his classes in the past.
“They have turned out to be some of my best welders,” said Love.
Love said the goal for most of his students is to become a pipe welder.
Schmaing said the best thing the students can do is to learn how to weld pipe, as well as know how to fit the pipe.
“The welders who can do both are getting harder and harder to find,” said Schmaing. “The welding program (at FVCC) is tailored to what the students want to do, depending on what their needs are.”
He said if the students just want to get a couple of certifications they can do that, and if they decide, after a year of being there, they want to go to work, they can take the certifications of what they have learned up to that point with them.
“It’s just a matter of paperwork,” said Schmaing. “They can walk away with qualifications under their belt.”
Finally, one student brought his finished project to Schmaing in order for him to give it what is called in the business a “bend” test.
In a bend test, the welded piece of iron, called a “coupon,” is placed in a small pneumatic machine. The apparatus pushes a “bend former” down onto the plate and bends it a “U” shape. If the welded plate does not break or show any stress fractures, the student passes the test.
The first student to pass on Friday was junior Joe Downard. He watched with what appeared to be trepidation as the coupon was bent. Schmaing asked Downard if he was a religious man, and the student laughed nervously.
After inspecting the plates that were tested, Schmaing told Downard he was now a professional welder. By that time, more students waited to have their coupons tested as well.
“That’s the one thing I love about welding,” said Love. “It’s new and it’s different and there’s a goal.”